TAMPA — A year and a half after the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir was drained to repair and rebuild its massive earthen walls, the giant water tank in rural eastern Hillsborough County is half full.
Tampa Bay Water, which owns and runs the reservoir, has pumped 120 million gallons of water a day into the sprawling reservoir since the pumps were first turned on at the end of July, said agency spokesman Brandon Moore.
By midweek, the reservoir had reached about 7.3 billion gallons, he said.
“The construction was completed from the bottom up so we could fill it one half of the way,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Water is being pumped from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Alafia River, and this month's rains also contributed, he said.
“Rain from the last two weeks has helped a lot,” he said, “and we're pumping at permitted capacity from our river sources.”
He said plans are on track to have the reservoir brimming with 15.5 billion gallons of water — enough to fill 33 Raymond James stadiums — by next summer.
Adding water doesn't mean the construction project is complete. Work is still being done around the top of the man-made tank. Seawalls are being put into place to make sure waves stirred up by tropical storms or hurricanes don't breach the berms, and a paved road for maintenance and inspections is being built along the five-mile rim that encircles the reservoir.
Last week, monitoring equipment was placed in and around the embankment and in the facility's drainage layer. The devices measure water pressure and levels to make sure there are no problems.
A sure sign the project is nearing the end happened earlier this month when crews removed construction equipment, including heavy trucks, tools, supplies and storage areas that were no longer needed.
The reservoir has been a source of drinking water since 2005 but developed abnormal cracking in the erosion control layer soon after its first drawdown in 2006. Tampa Bay Water decided to drain the facility so the earthen berms could be repaired.
The $129 million renovation project involved more than 140 pieces of heavy equipment, more than 105,000 tons of cement and five miles of white tarp that serves as the liner. Tampa Bay Water is footing the bill after losing a lawsuit it filed against the engineering company that designed and built the reservoir nine years ago.
The construction project eliminated the main source of drinking water for an extended period of time, and Tampa Bay Water had to rely on its desalination plant, which is expensive to run, and an array of ground pumping stations throughout the region to quench the thirst of Tampa Bay area residents.
The agency provides wholesale water to the public utility systems of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties as well as the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.